FREEHOLD, NJ (MONMOUTH)–A sea of small purple flags will adorn the grass along the front entrance to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for the rest of the month, leading up to International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, with each flag representing an individual lost due to a drug overdose in the county this year.
“As overdose deaths rise to previously unthinkable levels, both here in Monmouth County and nationwide, it’s so vitally important to resist discouragement and continue to do absolutely everything in our power to mitigate the human toll of this epidemic,” Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey said. “A big part of that is promoting remembrance: reminding our community that each person lost is not some nameless, faceless statistic, but a dynamic individual who leaves behind hopes, dreams, and friends and family members who remain devastated by their absence.”
Acting Prosecutor Linskey was joined earlier this week by Acting First Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Wojciechowski, Acting Chief of Detectives John G. McCabe, Jr., additional colleagues, and community partners with the Prevention Coalition of Monmouth County for a remembrance ceremony, during which the flags were put into place. As of this week, thanks to the efforts of the Coalition, similar public displays will be in place in 43 of Monmouth County’s 53 municipalities.
A total of 79 people died due to a drug overdose in Monmouth County during the first half of 2022, according to statistics compiled by the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES). An estimated 1,500 lives were lost in such fashion countywide from 2012 through 2021, with annual tolls rising from a low of 85 in 2013 to a high of 215 in 2018.
Those figures mirror statewide and national trends – New Jersey recorded a 10-year low of 1,223 overdose deaths in 2012, but that figure has since soared to over 3,000 in three of the last four full calendar years. Driving the trends has been the proliferation of increasingly deadly quantities of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be made quickly and cheaply, which often is found mixed with other narcotics that can exacerbate its dangerousness. Two milligrams of fentanyl, about the size and appearance of a few grains of salt, can be a fatal dose.
The Prosecutor’s Office has played a lead role in attacking the local opioid epidemic on multiple fronts; in 2014, Monmouth became just the second county in New Jersey to train all of its police officers on the use of naloxone, a nasally administered drug that works to quickly and safely reverse the effects of an overdose. Police officers in Monmouth County administered naloxone on more than 2,600 occasions from 2017 through the first quarter of 2022, with the overwhelming majority of deployments resulting in recipients going on to survive.
In 2020, with funds provided by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General NJ CARES Operation Helping Hand grant, MCPO announced the establishment of a 24/7 opioid dependency helpline, 833-OHH-CARE, which to this day remains staffed by recovery coaches from Recovery Advocates for the Shore (RAFTS) who link callers to treatment through CPC Behavioral Healthcare (CPC).
And earlier this year, MCPO hosted the first graduation ceremony for its newly established Recovery Diversion Program, an initiative that substitutes peer recovery and treatment services for nonviolent municipal court offenders, rather than traditional prosecution. Municipal defendants who successfully complete substance use treatment, maintain contact with their peer recovery coaches, and remain arrest-free are eligible to have their charges dismissed and expunged.
Monmouth County also remains an active participant in Project Medicine Drop, a New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs initiative through which citizens are invited to dispose of unwanted or expired prescription medication in safe, simple, anonymous fashion. There are currently about 30 drop boxes located countywide; for a full list of participating police departments that administer the initiative, go to https://mcponj.org/project-medicine-drop-off-locations-monmouth-county/.
“This epidemic didn’t develop from just one cause, and fixing it won’t be the result of just one solution,” Acting Prosecutor Linskey said. “We remain deeply committed to leveraging innovation toward addressing it from every conceivable angle.”